Vadmal Display NMI

Doreen Gunkel




Mini Me Welcoming You all to the National Museum of Iceland

This museum post consists of some of the textiles that are displayed in the museum. There are (three?) types of textile treatments for wearable items presented at the museum. In this post I will be covering vadmal.  Next week I will cover needle-coiling (nal Binding) and tabby weave.

For those of you who are not aware of vadmal or homespun fabric, it is a twill fabric that can have various patterns.

The examples here are based on a twill pattern. One of the more common patterns looks similar to the fabric in pair of blue jeans. If you look at the inside of most, you can plainly see this pattern.

There are several differing patterns represented in the photographs to follow and will be denoted in the comment under the picture.

Vadmal was the basis of the clothing, bags, tents, sails, and just about everything else where textiles were needed including as trade goods. You will see some examples of the wearables below.

So, lets get too it.

Any descriptions I add here that come directly from the museum placards will be attributed as NMI for The National Museum of Iceland. All others are mine exclusively.

Few textiles have survived from the early centuries of Icelandic history, but remnants of clothing have been found on farm sites and in graves where soil conditions are favorable. (NMI)

The oldest surviving textile fragments in Iceland are sewn from vadmal, woolen woven cloth. The vast majority of garments were made from this material, including gloves. (NMI)



Mitten, sewn from brown vadmal, 9th or 10th century (NMI) This is a difficult pattern to see due to the degredation of the fabric though looking at the very edges of the item, it appears to be a snake pattern twill.


Child’s mitten, sewn of vadmal, fastened together with a woollen cord. 10th or 11th century. (NMI)


Child’s mitten, sewn of vadmal, fastened together with a woollen cord. 10th or 11th century. (NMI)


A close up of the vadmal pattern from a child’s mitten. 10th or 11th century. displayed and the National Museum of Iceland. This give a clear look at the snake pattern twill that was used to form the vadmal in this set of mittens.

Woollen shoes appear to have been common in the middle ages. From Snoksdalur, West Iceland. probably late medieval. (NMI)



Shoes sewn from scraps of vadmal, probably slippers. Probably late Medieval period. (NMI) The vadmal this slipper is formed from is a snake patter twill.

  Vadmal, … was Iceland’s most important export until stockfish (dried fish) became predominant in the 14th century. The cloth was of various kinds. Striped vadmal, the better quality hafnarvadmal, and, the most common type, “trade” vadmal, woven to be sold. The cloth was woven as a breadth  of two ells (one ell is a little over 50cm). The price of a cow was 90 ells (45 meters) of trade vadmal. (NMI)



A bit of the vadmal cloth. I am not sure of the date or location found for this piece. The pattern in this piece is a form of a common twill pattern. Unless I were to be able to examine it closer, I will not be able to say which weave it is.

Twill fabric is at the heart of this project. I look forward to discussing this textile form in depth with you all. This is still coming up in the future.

The technology and knowledge to produce the fabric that was such a foundation of the culture and economy of Iceland and Greenland, was transported through out the North Atlantic as the Norse traveled and settled various locations.

Without the fabric that could be woven very fine and soft or in the heavy wide panels that were the sails that were the backbone of that travel, vadmal was an indispensable tool. Without it, history would be very different.

Stay tuned for next week’s museum shot as we will continue looking at the textile finds from Iceland. I am excited to show you what else I have found.

In two weeks we will look at the tools the Icelanders used to work their textiles. There are some very good examples of these tools.

And then we get to the metal work and some examples of life away from the textiles1  🙂

Enjoy and be well,


4 thoughts on “Vadmal Display NMI

  1. Michele

    Dear Doreen,
    Glad to see you are talking about Vadmal. I wanted to let you know that I have been working on Icelandic and North Atlantic vadmal now for about 6 years, on two NSF funded research grants looking at weaving and women across the North Atlantic. I have examined so far about 34 Icelandic sites with vadmal spanning the Viking Age to the late 17th century, tracking its use and how it evolved over the course of time. I am an archaeologists so I have been digging through archaeological collections at the National Museum of Iceland that most people are unaware of . There are literally thousands of fragments, and alot of my analyses have been published. If you are interested in these articles I can refer you to where you can download them. Contrary to what they might say at the National Museum vadmal did not go out of use in the 14th century and replaced by stock fish. Vadmal was used from about 1060-1500 as a form of currency within Iceland regardless of whether fish became more important or not. Internationally from about 930-1300 vadmal was exported to both Norway and England but this declined with the increase in fish for export, so that part is correct. I have been exploring so many different aspects of vadmal and cloth in the Norse colonies and I am sure you would find this of interest. I have gone through almost all of the Greenlandic material, all of the Faroese material and some of the Scottish material as well and it continues! Drop me a line if you would like to talk vadmal 🙂
    Best wishes Michele Hayeur Smith

    1. Greenland Gown ProjectGreenland Gown Project

      Dear Michele,
      You are welcome. Thank you for commenting on the blog and offering your assistance in my research. I have found the work I am doing to be very rewarding.
      I find this fabric to be fascinating for many reasons. The least of these is the weaving. I have been researching and working to understand the technologies used to produce it for just under 4 years.
      The fabric is really the foundation for the rest of my work. Without it, I do not think I would be researching the surrounding culture. The research has developed a clear path now. The dress being the real end product with all that came before it the real story as it were. It is about how did the dress get to where it was found.
      Your work sounds absolutely fascinating. To have been able to work or visit all of those sites and also to look at the textiles so closely. I look forward to discussing these with you. I have found that many of the papers I need for my work cost too much for me to be able to purchase though. I have no grant funding. All of this has been done so far out of pocket a bit at a time. I do not know where to start to find grants. Not to say that I would not love to use your work to help further mine. 🙂
      I am aware of the discrepancy in the time line at the museum. It is nice to have validation though. One of the trails I will follow once I get through the North Atlantic is the connection with the explorers of the new world. But the foundation has to be built first. So I continue.
      One of the other things I am doing right now while I am working on the blog and doing research to write the next paper is to do the actual experimental part of the recreation work. I am trying to rebuild the fiber processes to be able to actually weave the fabric. Knowing there are many others working to do the same thing, I feel there cannot be too many working independently on this so that the best, hopefully the most accurate possible ways can be found. Unless there are instructions some place that can tell us exactly how the process was accomplished.
      Lol! Does it ever end? Lol! This search is so fascinating that I do not think there is a bottom, so to speak. My next trip is to Copenhagen. The National Museum there holds more treasures that I need for my research. 🙂

      I shall be in contact. Again Thank you for your kind offers for help. It is a gift that I am very appreciative for.

      Be Well,

      Doreen Gunkel


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